Temple Owls

Amid change, senior safety Sean Chandler remains Temple's constant

Amid change, senior safety Sean Chandler remains Temple's constant

Winds of change have blown across 10th and Diamond Streets over the last several months.

Gone are the head coach and his staff who lead the revitalization of the Temple football program, a four-year starter at quarterback who rewrote numerous chapters of school’s record book and seven starters from one of the nation’s stingiest defenses that paved the way toward the Owls’ first conference title since 1967.

In are Geoff Collins and the assistant coaches of his choosing, four underclassmen quarterbacks of limited experience fighting for the starter’s crown before the nationally televised opener at Notre Dame and a youthful infusion of talent on defense.

But as the winds of change settle and the Owls begin to replenish, one constant remains anchored strongly in the defensive backfield — senior safety and four-year starter Sean Chandler.

And now, as his ultimate season, as an Owl draws near, the man they call “Champ” is ready to take on the leadership role he’s prepared the last three years for.

“I feel like I have to play more of that leader role now,” Chandler, a Camden High product who was voted the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, said. “Other guys have left now. So I have to step up to the plate and get the guys to follow behind me.

“When the new coaching staff comes in, I feel like you have to get the guys to buy in, to buy into the team. Now I’m the guy who feels like I have to make that connection from the coaches to the players and bring it all together.”

During his time at Temple, Chandler has been groomed for this type of role under tutelage of program greats such as Tyler Matakevich (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers), Tavon Young (now with the Baltimore Ravens), Haason Reddick (the Arizona Cardinals’ first-round pick this past year) and Avery Williams (in camp with the Houston Texans).

All of those guys always had their fingers on the pulse of the team and knew which buttons to push and when to push them, even during the trying times. They knew when to bump the coaches aside and take matters into their own hands when it came to getting a message across, all while navigating the program’s rise in prominence.

Chandler heard those messages loud and clear.

“I’m willing to fill in any role in any way possible to help this team and help my team win,” Chandler said.

“He has some charisma to him when he speaks up and lets everyone know what he’s thinking,” said Taver Johnson, who is Temple’s new defensive coordinator after spending the last three seasons at Purdue as defensive backs coach. Johnson also spent 2007-2010 as defensive backs coach at Ohio State, where he coached Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins.

“He’s got a good personality and, on top of that, he’s a worker. He does a really good job of getting out there and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes things. When the place is shut down, he’s usually here. Even on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, day or night.”

It’s not like “Champ” was just handed this role because he has the years he does under his belt. Sure, that plays a part. But his actions on the field make him stand out and they do a lot of his speaking for him.

In his three years in cherry and white, Chandler has amassed 185 tackles, 26 pass deflections, seven interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns), three sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 32 career games.

The talent and skill and respect have been there from the very beginning. Temple has a tradition of awarding single-digit jersey numbers to players voted the toughest by teammates and the coaching staff. Prior to his first collegiate game in 2014, Chandler was awarded his now customary No. 3 by his teammates. Former head coach Matt Rhule has said he wouldn’t give a single digit to a freshman, but trusted his players and let them overrule him for “Champ.”

A corner by trade at first, Chandler played his first two seasons at Temple on the outside. As Rhule and his staff watched Chandler mature on the field, they decided it would be best for the athletic, versatile 6-foot, 195-pounder’s professional future if they moved him inside to safety. Chandler’s first season on the inside was last year and he excelled with 51 tackles and two picks, all while missing four games with a leg injury.

Others outside of Philadelphia have now taken notice as Chandler is on four preseason award watch lists – the Jim Thorpe Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Lott IMPACT Award.

The Thorpe Award is for the best defensive back in the country. The three other awards are various defensive player of the year awards.

“It just lets me know people are watching with a close eye now,” Chandler said of having his name on the watch lists.

“But they’re only watch lists. Gotta go win ‘em now.”

Collins has spent the last several seasons as a defensive coordinator with both Mississippi State and Florida in the college football pressure cooker that is the SEC, where defensive dominance reigns supreme among the conference’s and nation’s big boys.

And Collins knows his way around some elite defensive backs.

While at MSU, he coached Detroit Lions corner Darius Slay, who was a second-round pick in 2013.

At Florida, he coached corner Vernon Hargreaves, a three-time All-American, three-time all-SEC selection and the Tampa Bay Bucs’ first-round pick (11th overall) in 2016. Hargreaves made the NFL All-Rookie team last season.

Also while with the Gators, Collins coached safety Keanu Neal, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick (17th overall) in 2016. Neal was also voted to the NFL All-Rookie team last season.

“I’m excited about [Chandler] and he epitomizes ‘Temple Tuff’ and single-digit tough,” Collins said of his senior safety. “He’s back and he’s better than ever. You just see him every day with a look in his eye and a desire to be great. I just think he epitomizes what this program is all about.

“Over the last seven years, I’ve coached some really good defensive backs. Sean Chandler is in that conversation with any of those kids.”

High praise.

But people inside and outside 10th and Diamond certainly are having conversations about the man they call "Champ."

Temple abandons identity against UConn, now searching for how to become bowl eligible

Temple abandons identity against UConn, now searching for how to become bowl eligible

BOX SCORE

This was personal for Logan Marchi.

After all, Temple’s starting quarterback wouldn’t even be sporting cherry and white Saturday afternoons if his original plan went as scheduled.

Marchi, a Bristol, Connecticut, native, was set to attend UConn after high school. That is, until his scholarship offer was pulled by the Huskies shortly before national signing day.

Temple ultimately came back around and reoffered to Marchi, who signed on the spot.

All of that added a little spice to Saturday’s matchup between Temple and Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field. Certainly, Marchi would want to put on a show. He just didn’t realize it would be a personal show.

Marchi dropped back for a career-high 54 pass attempts as Temple’s lopsided offense couldn’t help pull off a comeback in a 28-24 homecoming loss to UConn (see observations).

“I think any time you go into any game you want to try and be as balanced as you possibly can,” Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “They did a good job early on in the first half of blitzing us and being aggressive in the run game. They also came in with a fairly porous pass defense, so we knew going in we felt like we would be able to throw it.”

Oh, they threw it all right. The Owls (3-4, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) threw when they were ahead early. They went to the air when things were tight during the middle of the game. And they tossed the ball around, even more, when they were trailing late.

It made for a nice day in the stat books for Marchi (career-best 356 yards, one touchdown and one interception). But, more importantly, it threw Temple’s offense out of whack as the team attempted 55 total passes (one spike to stop the clock not charged to Marchi) compared to 29 runs in the program’s first homecoming defeat since 2008.

“I would never imagine wanting to throw it 55 times,” Patenaude said. “We’re not like a Texas Tech type of group that wants to do that over and over again. You always want to be more balanced.”

Patenaude is exactly right. No one will ever mistake Temple’s offense for the Air Raid attack used by the Red Raiders. And that’s a good thing. TU has moved its way up the college football ranks the old-fashioned way: dominating the run game and playing stingy defense.

That commitment to the run is what allowed Bernard Pierce, Montel Harris and Jahad Thomas to all eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in recent Temple history.

Despite being banged up, Ryquell Armstead, David Hood and the rest of the team’s running backs are waiting for their chance to be able to join that list. They showed flashes against the Huskies as the rushing attack went over the century mark for a third straight game (117 yards) and produced just the second and third scores on the ground from tailbacks this season.

But that quest to have a run-first mentality wasn’t going to get started on this Saturday. The Owls were focused on putting on an aerial show right from the start vs. UConn (2-4, 1-3 AAC), which worked for a while against the AAC’s worst pass defense.

Marchi was on target early. He connected with his receivers downfield when those opportunities presented themselves. However, with the Huskies playing deep coverage, a lot of Marchi’s work came underneath. He found his backs time and again for checkdowns (Hood finished with a team-high eight catches for 91 yards).

That was fine until the Owls’ defense stumbled a bit and the team began trying to play catch-up. Then the wideouts endured a case of the drops and the redshirt sophomore QB threw a critical pick-six near the end of the third quarter to put Temple back down by 14 points.

“We’ve got to execute. We didn’t execute out there today,” Marchi said. “We’ve got to catch passes. We’ve got to make the throws that are there and move the ball better. I thought we did that well coming out in the second half, moving down the field. We’ve just got to make the plays that are there.”

“I thought Logan had some nice balls. We’ve challenged them for the last couple weeks. We’ve got to make those catches,” Temple head coach Geoff Collins said of the dropped passes. “I thought vs. ECU, we were making those catches. We were making the hard catches and we were making the routine catches. There were sometimes out there today, even some of the routine catches, we weren’t pulling down. We’ve got to make sure we do that. 

“It’s been a point of emphasis and we’ll just keep stressing it because in games like this every single time that you drop a pass or there’s an incompletion on a makeable catch, that sets you back. It hurts the momentum, it hurts the tempo. When we were clicking, we were hitting on all cylinders. We were moving the ball up and down the field. Then one drop or one missed target is going to not be good for us.”

True, Temple’s offense was clicking on all cylinders most of the day against UConn. TU won a majority of the battles on the stat sheet, particularly in total yardage (473-244).

Still, the Owls were the ones that walked away back under the .500 mark and searching for answers to how they can make it to bowl eligibility.

“There are obviously some hurt kids in there,” Collins said of the mood in the locker room.

Temple is better off when it's the one hurting opponents on the field, primarily on the ground.

Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

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Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

When fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown tore his Achilles tendon in late May 2016, it dealt a huge blow to the Owls’ 2017 NCAA Tournament chances.

Brown, who led the AAC with 36.2 minutes per game as Temple’s primary ball handler in 2015-16, underwent surgery on May 25 and came back for five games early in the year. But after a 78-57 loss at Villanova in mid-December, Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The loss of the Owls’ backcourt leader put their young guards in a tough position, thrusting them into the spotlight without much experience. Although they acquitted themselves well, Temple had a disappointing season, finishing 16-16 and losing in the first round of the AAC Tournament to East Carolina.

The Owls did not advance to a postseason tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

However, with Brown returning for his fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt, the Owls' glaring weakness from last year is now their greatest strength.

“The [guard] rotation is going to be interesting for us,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll probably play four guards a number of times because we have an abundance of guys that want to be out there and need to be out there on the court. We have a bunch of guys that are ready to go. Again, as our preseason stuff has been working, it’s been the competitiveness that has been terrific.”

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. will be a big part of that rotation. After Brown was lost for the season in 2016-17, Alston became Temple’s primary ball handler as a sophomore with little experience.

He had to average 36.4 minutes per game and responded well, leading the team with 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

“His mindset is totally different,” Brown said about Alston. “Going from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire and I thought he did a pretty good job, you know. Now, with all that experience he has on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent scorer and a be a consistent guy on defense and be a consistent guy that we can all lean on.”

Sophomores Quinton Rose and Alani Moore had to make up for the absence of Brown, as well, averaging 24.8 and 25.8 minutes per game last year, respectively. Moore, a starter in his freshman year, likely will come off the bench this season, which is a true testament to the amount of depth the Owls have in the backcourt.

Moore’s offensive versatility, which allows him to bring the ball up in certain situations and play on the wing, as well, will be very important if the Owls want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“You can let other guys bring it up and have others guys do other things on the court, so it helps out a great deal,” Brown said. “It opens up everybody’s game. Like Alani Moore, he’s a point guard, but he’s also a great shooter, so he can spot up from time to time and things like that.”

“Alani and Q aren’t your average sophomores,” Alston added. “We played almost the same amount of minutes [last year] and I’m a junior, so they’re very veteran guys already.”

Players have also been raving about the talent and competitiveness that freshmen guards/wings Nate Pierre-Louis, J.P. Moorman and De’vondre Perry have shown throughout the offseason and preseason.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen freshmen this ready to play,” Alston said. “J.P. can bring the ball up, ‘Dre can bring the ball up, even Nate sometimes, so it’ll help us a lot.”

When you factor Trey Lowe, a redshirt sophomore guard who missed all of last season as he has been recovering from a February 2016 car accident and could return later this season, into the equation, the Owls have an incredibly deep and versatile backcourt.

The last time the Owls made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was in 2001 when they lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. According to Alston, immediately after the Owls were bounced from the AAC Tournament last year, they talked about their potential to make a run.

“We see teams like South Carolina go all the way, teams similar to ourselves that are not the big blood teams like Kentucky or Duke,” Alston said. “We think we can make it to the second round, third round or as far as we want.”

If they’re going to do it, their veteran backcourt will be the reason why.